With the Black Lives Matter movement at the forefront of social issues in the United States, and Reconciliation Week having just taken place in Australia, the focus on Indigenous rights is front of mind across the nation, with many taking to social media to express solidarity and highlight Indigenous voices in the community.
Paul Vandenbergh is a proud, Aboriginal man, and he is feeling hopeful about the current emphasis on racial rights, particularly the rights of Indigenous Australians.
However, he says this hope will only be maintained if the conversation remains a priority for Australians, if long-warranted action is taken.
Vandenbergh has been the Director of Aboriginal Programs at Port Adelaide Football Club for over nine years, and has been heavily involved in the club’s push to support Indigenous rights.
In particular, Port Adelaide Football Club partnered with the South Australian Aboriginal Secondary Training Academy to establish the Aboriginal AFL Academy, dedicated to the educational success of school aged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander footballers.
“The hashtag used for Reconciliation Week this year was #inthistogther,” says Vandenbergh.
“I think that really resonated with a lot of people. That’s what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been fighting for, how to do this together as a nation.
“We have some amazing non-Aboriginal allies but we need more support, we need better platforms. I feel there’s an appetite in our nation to want to find a solution.”
Vandenbergh says the tragedies in the US have raised issues about the treatment of people of colour around the world.
“There have been 432 deaths of Indigenous people in custody in the last twenty years. We need to ask why this has occurred and have truth telling conversations to give people a better understanding of the issues at hand.”
According to Vandenbergh, education and understanding of Indigenous culture is key.
“There’s no right or wrong way to do it,” he says.
Vandenbergh notes there are some “fantastic” resources out there, resources schools and organisations should be accessing.
He recommends Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, a non-fiction book reexamining colonial accounts of Aboriginal people in Australia.
“The hashtags and black tiles, it can’t just be now, it has to be long term. It needs to be everyone’s priority,” says Vandenbergh, echoing the voices of many people of colour.
“Stop the misconceptions and put time and effort into knowing who we are as people.”
In an effort to achieve this, one of Vandenbergh’s primary focuses is taking non-Aboriginal people into Indigenous communities.
“People are having some amazing experiences,” he says.
Visiting an Indigenous community with Vandenbergh is as simple as reaching out to him and expressing interest.
Vandenbergh also runs a variety of cultural awareness workshops, available to organizations wishing to increase awareness and understanding of Indigenous culture.
“It gives people a sense of getting into that frame of mind as to who we are as people, past policies that have had a big impact, our culture and our religion, and the difference in the way we communicate,” says Vandenbergh on the workshops.
“There are a lot of ‘aha’ moments when I talk about some of the differences in the way we communicate.”
According to Vandenbergh, the cultural awareness workshops are a starting point to drive change.
He comments on the importance of having an impact, of like-minded people working to stimulate the importance of these issues, and encourage the systematic changes that need to be made.
“I do feel hopeful,” he says. “It can’t continue like this, where a mother and father don’t have answers for our kids as to why things are the way they are. As an Aboriginal male, why should I be living ten years less? We shouldn’t be living in poverty.”
“Surely there’s enough like-minded people who can come to the table, enough of our allies to come with us.”
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